When you successfully build your own online community, you’ll be creating a place where people who share your passion can get the latest news, express their own love for the niche and even become your best, most vocal product advocates.
But building an online community doesn’t necessarily mean people will come. It takes effort on your part, as well as a great deal of listening and some strategy, too.
Successful online communities have personality and momentum. People come not just to see what’s happening, but also to participate, to advocate and to have fun.
Just look at the forums on Reddit and you’ll see what I mean. There are Redditors who visit their favorite Reddit communities every single day and sometimes several times per day. They start their own posts and comment in others. They vote comments and threads up and down, and the next day they come back and do it all again.
This is the kind of loyalty a marketer is hoping to achieve when they start their own online community. But how do you get started?
Choose your niche wisely
This may or may not be a time to be product specific. For example, let’s say you’re selling the ABC Guide to Super Duper Copywriting. Instead of trying to base your community around that specific product, you might choose instead to base it on copywriting tips, critiques and instruction for new copywriters in general. You’re still free to promote your own copywriting products inside the community you create, but you’ll attract many, many more people (and potential customers) if you widen your circle to include people who do not yet know about or care about your products.
Know who you are serving
You may think that because you’re already in that niche, you know pretty much everything there is to know about how people in your niche want to interact.
But… you don’t. You are one person with one point of view. Taking our copywriting example, you might think that every aspiring copywriter is looking for the ultimate copywriting course to get started. But many of them are still investigating if copywriting is something they want to do, what it entails, how to market it, if they will even like it and so forth.
Your best bet is to contact as many aspiring copywriters as possible, ask questions and listen. I mean listen a LOT. Take notes. Don’t try to convince them of anything or change their minds when you disagree with something they say. Just get their points of view on all things directly related to your niche and then use this information to form your plan to build your community. Yes, this is somewhat tedious, but the payoff can be huge.
Befriend your early adopters
The first people to be active on your community are also the first ones to contact personally. That’s right… call them up and find out how they found you, what they like and dislike about your community and so forth.
This might be hard if you’re one of those folks who prefers to do everything digitally, but I promise you it’s worth it. The early adopters you personally contact will often go on to become your biggest advocates and even your community moderators when you want help.
Realize not everyone will be active
There is a rule that says 1% of users create content, 9% of users interact with content and 90% of users simply view content without contributing.
While the numbers will surely vary, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of your community members will be ‘lurkers,’ and that’s just fine. Lots of lurkers means your community is growing. If you can find ways to turn some of those lurkers into actively participating members, that’s even better. And lurkers buy products, too.
That said, you’re going to design your community for the active users. Make them happy and the rest will follow.
Rule with a soft glove instead of an iron hand
As your community grows, you’ll discover that your users have their own desires of how the community should work and what it should offer. Listen to them. These people have a stake in your community and in most cases their insights can be extremely valuable in growing your community and providing a better experience for all.
When adding new features, you might also need to remove some older features. This can cause trouble because change is never easy. People will be alarmed when their favorite feature is going away. That’s why you might want to overlap features, to give users time to get used to a new way of doings things before they are forced to make the change.